October 21, 2019

Yes, the World Does Need More English Majors

I get it. It’s a tough job market out there, especially for new college grads.

It’s not 1999 anymore.

And, in the face of that economic challenge, it makes sense to go after a field that has ready job opportunities as soon as you hit the market.

Lately, that has been technology. The perception since the Great Recession has been that STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) are a better choice for future employment, and majors in computer science and health fields have nearly doubled in that time, along with engineering and math.

On the flipside, English majors are down more than 25% since 2009.

This might be a mistake long-term, according to a recent article in the Washington Post. As it explains…

“Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller’s new book “Narrative Economics” opens with him reminiscing about an enlightening history class he took as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. He wrote that what he learned about the Great Depression was far more useful in understanding the period of economic and financial turmoil than anything he learned in his economic courses.

“The whole premise of Shiller’s book is that stories matter. What people tell each other can have profound implications on markets — and the overall economy. Examples include the “get rich quick” stories about bitcoin or the “anyone can be a homeowner” stories that helped drive the housing bubble.AD

“Traditional economic approaches fail to examine the role of public beliefs in major economic events — that is, narrative,’ Shiller wrote. “Economists can best advance their science by developing and incorporating into it the art of narrative economics.”

“Shiller, who is famous for predicting the dot-com crash and coming up with the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, is spending a lot of time looking at old newspaper clippings to understand what stories and terms went viral and how they influenced people to buy things — or stop buying things.

“When asked if he’s essentially arguing for more English and history majors, Shiller said, “I think so,” adding: “Compartmentalization of intellectual life is bad.”

Read the article

Tldr: Story still matters.

A lot.

Yes, STEM majors enjoy a strong job market immediately after school, but that advantage fades over time. Skills change, needs evolve, and it isn’t easy for tech experts to stay on top of the market forever.

The humanities, on the other hand, teach students not only how to communicate (the number-one “soft skill” that HR professionals say they look for in management candidates), but also how to learn. That makes them more adaptable, more able to grow into new roles, and more employable over the course of their career.

I can talk about this all day, but what do you think? Let me know at tim@wearelayup.com and we can keep this going.

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